Pakistan Begins Its Largest Military Exercises In 20 Years


Pakistan Begins Its Largest Military Exercises In 20 Years

Sabrina Tavernise

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A month of military exercises began in Pakistan this weekend, the country’s biggest drills in 20 years, in what analysts said was a show of military muscle meant mainly to impress a domestic audience.

Pakistan conducts military exercises every year, an event that serves both as conventional warfare training for troops and as a display of force for India, Pakistan’s longtime rival. India, for its part, conducts similar exercises across the border.

But this year’s round is Pakistan’s largest since 1989, a military spokesman said, the year that the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, and analysts say the timing is related to the military’s confidence and sense of accomplishment.

In 1989, Pakistan — together with its ally, the United States — savored a moment of victory after the Soviet military’s February pullout. The countries had backed Islamic fighters against Soviet troops in Afghanistan for a decade. Now the military wants to burnish its image again, coming off a year of operations against Taliban militants that are broadly perceived by Pakistanis as a success.

“They feel happy that they have succeeded to some extent,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore. “Therefore, they want to do public relations work.”

Pakistan’s military had suffered serious setbacks in the public eye after former President Pervez Musharraf, a general who had seized power in a coup, sunk in popularity. Pakistan’s current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has worked to reverse that, making public appearances on the front lines, courting the news media, and remaining mostly behind the scenes in political affairs.

The field exercises, scheduled to run through early May, are expected to involve as many as 50,000 troops from most branches of the armed services, according to the Pakistani media. They are scheduled to take place along Pakistan’s eastern border, close to India.

The exercises, Mr. Rizvi said, were also aimed at showing Pakistanis that the military was still focused on conventional warfare on its eastern border. All of the fighting in the recent past has been with the Pakistani Taliban in the country’s west, close to Afghanistan.

India is also holding training exercises, which a military spokesman in New Delhi said included mechanized forces and infantry. “It is a routine exercise conducted every year,” the spokesman said.

New York Times

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